Karnataka High Court: In a case filed by a social activist seeking direction to State to provide minimum wages to the women workers employed under mid-day meal scheme and to provide other benefits like Maternity Leave and other Leaves including medical benefits and insurance benefits, a Division Bench of Alok Aradhe CJ. And S. Vishwajith Shetty J. held that no writ of mandamus can be issued to the respondent-State to provide minimum wages to the Head Cooks and Cooks employed under the scheme as the provisions of Minimum Wages Act, 1948 apply to the jobs which have been mentioned in the Schedule appended to it which is not the case in light of the present facts. It also made clear that other benefits sought have already been extended by the State.
The present petition was filed as a public interest litigation espousing the cause of women workers employed under the ‘Bisi Oota Mid-day Meal Scheme” in the State of Karnataka on paltry amount of Rs.1,000/- per month. It was stated that the aforesaid women workers who have been employed under the scheme for preparation of meals for school children, have been denied the benefit of minimum wages thus violating the fundamental rights of the said women workers under Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution of India.
In compliance with the directions laid by the Supreme Court in the case of PUCL v. UOI, (2013) 11 SCC 505, the State notified a Mid-Day Meal Scheme. Under the scheme, Cooks were to be recruited for the purposes of preparing the meals and for serving the same to the school children of the schools falling under the category of Government-run schools and Government aided schools. The scheme envisaged the constitution of Selection Committee for selection of Cooks after invitation of applications.
The Court noted that under the aforesaid scheme, Cooks were engaged by the Government of Karnataka on contract basis and initially, an honorarium of Rs.1,000/- per month was paid to them. However, the amount was increased over a period of time due to demands from various quarters in this regard, subsequently enhancing the amount to Rs 2700 and Rs 2600 given to Head Cooks and Cooks respectively.
The Court observed that the Government has also undertaken measures of providing insurance and compensation like, in case of untimely death or injury, compensation to the extent of Rs.1,00,000/- and Rs.75,000/- respectively is payable. The provision for payment of Rs.30,000/- has also been made in case any burn injuries are sustained by any person employed under the scheme
The State Government, by an order dated 18-05-2015, has made a provision for insurance under the ‘Rastriya Bhima Yojana’ wherein any person employed under the scheme can avail of the benefit of insurance by depositing Rs.12/- per annum as subscription and the Cooks employed under the scheme are entitled for payment of Rs.2,00,000/- in case of death and Rs.1,00,000/- in case of injury.
The Court noted that so far as the claim of the Head Cooks and Cooks employed under the Scheme for grant of minimum wages is concerned, the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 applies in case of “scheduled employment”. The provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 apply to the jobs which have been mentioned in the Schedule appended to the Act. The scheme is not one of the jobs mentioned in the Schedule and therefore, the provisions of the Minimum Wages Act, 1948 do not apply to Head Cooks and Cooks.
Thus, the Court held that the claim of minimum wages by the Head Cooks and Cooks employed under the scheme is not covered under the provisions of Minimum Wages Act, 1948.
It further remarked “Medical benefits and insurance benefits have already been extended to the Head Cooks and Cooks employed under the scheme.”
[Nowhera Shaik v. State of Karnataka, 2022 SCC OnLine Kar 1479, decided on 10-08-2022]
Advocates who appeared in this case :
Ashish Krupakar (Absent), Advocate, for the Petitioner;
J Sathish Kumar, AGA for R1 to R3, for the Respondent.
*Arunima Bose, Editorial Assistant has reported this brief.